Shayamanzi House Boats, Lake Jozini
Villiers gets motion sickness on boats. He goes green in the back of moving vehicles, on trains, trams, helicopters, and Boeing 747s in calm skies crossing the Atlantic. He even has to avoid rocking chairs.
He also doesn’t do fish – the eating of it, and especially not the smelling of it. These two worrisome facts had me chewing my nails in the days before we set off Pongolapoort Dam, or Lake Jozini as it’s also known, one of the best tiger-fishing destinations in the country, where we were booked on the Shayamanzi II houseboat for three nights late in January. Houseboats and tiger fish – right up Villiers’s alley.
I could see it clearly: Villiers on his back in a stuffy little cabin, pasty green and groaning at the smell of the daily catch. I voiced my concerns a few times leading up to D-day, only to have them casually dismissed, so by the time we boarded our boat I’d resigned myself to the nightmare that was to follow.
I knew there would be a Jacuzzi, I’d seen it in the pictures. Jacuzzis don’t generally feature in my nightmares, so I had a feeling this one would do nicely between sympathetic brow-mopping sessions. It was conveniently located right beside a downstairs bar, and when I discovered that there was also an upstairs bar and a fair number of very comfortable-looking sofas and deck chairs, I started pondering the likelihood of Villiers being okay doing his own brow-mopping.
Then again, our cabin, when they showed it to us, wasn’t quite the tiny, don’t-stand-up-or-you’ll-bang-your-head-on-the-ceiling room I was expecting. It was roomy, with a double bed, an en-suite bathroom, air-conditioning, and sliding windows that opened out onto a view over the water, to its elephant- and buffalo-studded banks, and the brooding Lebombo Mountains beyond. Perhaps hanging out in there wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Then they started feeding us, a constant flow of sensational delights which had me, and every other guest, praising Mike, the onboard chef, every time he wafted in and out of the kitchen with something new to feast on. How he managed to keep such deliciousness flowing out of a kitchen roughly the size of a three-quarter bed I’ll never know.
Between the coffee, cakes, and cocktails, the soups, sweets, and salads, the dinners and the delightful decadence of having nowhere to go but the next snug sofa or deck chair, it was day three before I noticed that Villiers wasn’t green and groaning in our glorious cabin at all. Instead, he was right there next to me looking attractively pink and happy, chilling in the upstairs lounge, lounging in the downstairs Jacuzzi, pulling up tunes on the onboard Jukebox, and generally behaving like a person who doesn’t get woozy on a swing bridge, despite the gentle sway of the water.
I was even briefly aware that he’d ventured out, multiple times, on the tender boats trailing behind the Shayamanzi II for tiger-fishing and game-viewing excursions.
I didn’t ask myself who this new, fully-functional man-of-the-waves was. Nope, I thanked my lucky stars and started planning our next trip out on the water.
The shoreline of the Pongolapoort Dam is great for game viewing. Rhinos, elephants and buffalo, along with scores of general game, gather here to quench their thirst right throughout the day. The houseboat’s small tender boats allow you to get reasonably close to the edge, but you’ll still need a decent zoom lens (at least up to 300 mm) to get nice close-ups of the animals. Bird lovers should bring the big guns (400 mm and more), because there are African fish-eagles, Goliath herons, pied kingfishers and a host of other bird species to photograph as well. You can’t catch a tiger fish and not take a photo of it, so don’t forget to pack one of your wider lenses.
If I want to go:
Where? From Johannesburg, take the N17 to Ermelo before getting onto the N2 to Pongola via Piet Retief. Continue south on the N2 for about 52 km to reach the southern tip of the lake and then turn left on the P522. Follow the road for approximately 20 km until you reach Jozini. The houseboats are moored at Jozini Tiger Lodge. (Approximately 490 km and 6 hours)
When? Tiger-fishing is best between September and March when the water is clear and warm, but the run-off from summer downpours (especially during December and January) affects water clarity and tends to reduce the number of bites.
Cost? Rates vary according to group size and season.